Reports of ring-fencing rejection are premature

The EU has yet to make a final decision on whether 'ring-fencing' rights is feasible

Some UK media have reported that the ‘EU’ has rejected the ‘Costa amendment’ plan by which the UK is expected to seek ring-fencing of rights of Britons in the EU and EU citizens in the UK – this is premature.

British MPs voted on Wednesday night unanimously that the government should ask the EU to agree to guarantee that the citizens’ rights part of the negotiation may stand alone in the case of no-deal – what campaigners refer to as ‘ring-fencing’ of the rights.

However some media have reported that an EU spokesman has rejected this, saying that the EU ‘will not negotiate mini-deals’.

Two points need to be clarified here: this was a statement by an EU spokesperson to reporters, not a decision by the EU heads of state, who have not yet ruled on the issue. The spokesman was reiterating the current negotiating strategy.

Secondly, ‘ring-fencing’ is not intended to be a ‘mini-deal’ or ‘side deal’, but rather something that could come into play in the event of there being no other deal.

It would mean that the citizens’ rights part of the agreement would in effect become ‘the deal’ if the overall deal fails to be accepted and the UK is otherwise set to fall out of the EU without any deal.

It would mean the range of rights negotiated for the citizens on both sides of the Channel could remain in place even though other matters, like the money owed by the UK to the EU, arrangements for the Northern Irish border and for a transition period until the end of 2020, would fall aside to be replaced by no-deal contingency plans and future discussions between the UK as an non-EU member and the EU and/or individual states.

The summit of the EU leaders coming up on March 21-22 may present an opportunity for a decision on ring-fencing before the UK faces crashing out. This would also be the logical stage at which a decision might be made on any extension of article 50, putting off the date of Brexit.

Both EU negotiator Michel Barnier and President Macron recently said the EU leaders would need to hear good reasons for why any extension should be allowed.

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